Review: WrestleZone ‘Halloween Hijinx 2021’

WrestleZone Halloween Hijinx 2021 poster

I’ve missed this. The atmosphere, the journey, and yes, even the queuing of a live pro wrestling event, but alas, after 581 days, WrestleZone is back and indeed better than ever. Returning on Saturday evening with a packed crowd for Halloween Hijinx, the feeling in the air was that of joy. Everyone just wanted to see a solid night of wrestling, catch up with old friends, and escape from this world of death, taxes, and me being so incredibly wrong at guessing the next step for the Foundation Of The Future.

Now that I stay in Aberdeen, it meant no more two hour bus journeys there and back, allowing a trip out for food beforehand instead (I got the chicken selects meal from McDonald’s for those who wish to know), before hopping on the bus, avoiding being soaked by jovial cars driving past, and it was off to the Northern Hotel, where you literally couldn’t miss it. I’ve not seen that many people crowded around a door in, well, 581 days. The line spiralled around the corner of the Northern, and then when inside, there wasn’t a spare seat to be had.

By my calculations, this was my tenth time heading to the Northern Hotel, having enjoyed my fair share of Regal Rumbles and Battle Of The Nations’. This was the first Halloween Hijinx for the venue, however, so of course, it was decorated with the usual Halloween paraphernalia, your skeletons, your pumpkins, even a bit of Halloween-themed tinsel which I’d never seen. It was also boiling beyond boiling. Northern Hotel shows typically are, but if you were at this show, your Snapchat map may as well have said you were in Spain. I sat in the corner next to the fan which meant two things; I was 0.01% less warm than everyone else in the venue, and I could sort of see behind the curtain a bit, which, while a cool tidbit as you see them warming up pre-match, it did ruin the first surprise of the evening.

This was the first time my partner had joined me for the experience of a WrestleZone show, too. His only real exposure of wrestling was discovering Acey Romero and Larry D in IMPACT Wrestling. He seemed to enjoy it and will be back for Christmas Chaos in December, so WrestleZone got at least one extra fan out of this, no matter how scared he might have gotten at the sheer reaction for the arrival of Bingo Ballance

Lord Mr Malice

VIP Ticket Holders Bonus Match – Lord Mr Malice Open Invitational – Triple Threat
Bingo Ballance def. Lord Mr Malice w/Jeeves Winchester and Mauler Murphy by Pinfall

But yes, Bingo Ballance is back. A genuine surprise to kick off the evening, which is always a good place to start up shop. Again, where I was sat, I could see a bit on the other side of the curtain, so I’d already seen Mauler Murphy waiting, but regardless, he looked noticeably better here, having slimmed down considerably since we last saw him and ditching the dreaded pleather trousers in favour of, you guessed it, another pair of pleather trousers, though slightly less pleather than Crusher Craib circa-2018. The pleather look is one only a few select individuals can pull off, and sadly, it detracted massively from Murphy’s initial run. He wrestled better here, but the pleather must go entirely. If Crusher can’t pull it off, then Mauler certainly can’t.

Lord Mr Malice was the first name seen by a WrestleZone crowd after all this time, which I love. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, as there were a few early technical issues with the microphones, but he soon introduced Jeeves Winchester, which presumably means Agent W is no more with Jason Reed. A great moment as he’s a million times better in the Jeeves role than he is as Agent W, plus Jason Reed doesn’t really need a mouthpiece/bodyguard/insert other role. Malice and Murphy shook hands, forming the strongest alliance since the Two-Man Power Trip of the early-2000s, before Bingo burst through the curtain. The thing about shows being away for the past year and a half is some of the music took me a while to realise who it was, so there was genuine, real surprise. He seemed ecstatic to be back, though. The fans were equally as ecstatic to see him back, too.

I’m not too sure if he’s wrestled since the dreaded March 2020 announcement – says he hasn’t, but they also say Blue Thunder was once Boris Chernov – but either way, the Irishman looked great here. He wrestled well against the bigger, beefier Mauler Murphy, while Lord Mr Malice added excellent comedy to the match. When he ascended to the top rope, connecting with an epic diving cannonball, the crowd went wild. A crowning moment for His Majesty! A subtly excellent spot then saw Malice attempt to climb the ropes again, slipping on his way up; whether intentional or not, it added so much more to the match. Murphy and Malice, or MNM 2.0, struggled to stay on the same page, leading to Bingo dropping Murphy with a Death Valley Driver for the win.

Considering this was both the first show back and the pre-show, I was surprised to see so many proper bumps, Malice’s dive being a particular highlight. Again, I was more impressed by Mauler Murphy throughout than I have been before. His promo work and crowd involvement still needs a bit of work as his “What do you guys think?” in relation to shaking Malice’s hand was a bit naff, but mostly everything else clicked into place. He wrestled and looked like a proper big man which is all you can really ask of him. Bingo was the star here, making Wrestling Daft proud while also making you question why he’s not booked in more places. Who knows, maybe it’s a personal thing, but if not, come on promoters. You’re missing a real chance. Otherwise, a solid start to Halloween Hijinx.

Damien vs. Bruiser Brad Evans

Undisputed WrestleZone Championship
Damien (c) def. Bruiser Brad Evans by Pinfall to retain

Once MC Martyn Clunes got everyone fully excited, he found himself interrupted by Bruiser Brad Evans, looking ripped, jacked, and definitely not eight and a half stone. The now-former Bradley Evans looked in tremendous condition, using the time away to better his look. He looked like Undisputed Championship material, berating Damien‘s daughter and demanding that their title match begin there and then instead of the scheduled Tri-Counties Championship offering.

Damien received the first proper pop of the main card. His music was drowned out by a combination of the fan next to me and the actual WrestleZone fans going nuts for his arrival. I thought they may have gone off him a bit in favour of some of the newer guys, but that clearly wasn’t the case. To reiterate a point Billy made on his and Kelly’s audio review, Damien was an intriguing name coming into this. He’d been quiet on the social media front, only making a handful of comments here and there. He wasn’t too sure where he stood in the realm of WrestleZone anymore.

And then he came through the curtain, realised why he’s been doing this for the past thirteen years, and had a suitable opening match with Evans.

What I liked about this is there was no wasting time. The age-old spot of two brawlers saying fluff it and just beating the poop out of each other traditionally comes towards the end of the match, but these two did so after a couple of minutes. It fit the style of the match beautifully. I liked that Evans held control over Damien for the majority of this, it very much fit the narrative of the ‘Mad Dog’ using this time away to improve his skills and physique while Damien remained quiet, giving off the vibe that perhaps he hadn’t done as much work as Brad. Then, WrestleZone being as twisty as they are, this theory was blown out the window when Damien was bouncing off the ropes and all sorts. A neat spot saw Evans counter Damien’s springboard with a Rock Bottom. Of course it would’ve looked nicer had it gone down in one swift motion instead of Brad lifting Damien back into the air, but they’ve been out of it for close to 600 days, I think we can cut them the grief of picking every little detail apart. Damien ultimately retained the title with what Brad will inevitably deem a fluke rollup, leading to a pull-apart brawl between champion and challenger after the match.

This encapsulated everything a marquee WrestleZone match is about. It was a solid match that told a simple, yet effective story. Damien didn’t know what he had left to offer, Evans was on the cusp of becoming Undisputed Champion, and told Damien’s daughter that her dad was a failure. Top bad guy points for him. Evans looked like a completely new wrestler here, I’ve always enjoyed his work, especially post-Aberdeen Anarchy X, but I felt he was missing that killer instinct. It’s all well and good dressing like a Bruiser Brody-esque brawler, but if you’re doing TKOs and that, it doesn’t fit, hence why he performed Cesaro‘s Neutralizer finish as his apparent new finish. I legit thought we were about to see Minoru Suzuki‘s finish on a WrestleZone show as he lifted Damien off his feet, which would have been…something. A great match overall that can now lead to something more given the post-match antics. Maybe that Foundation Of The Future breakup can still happen after all.

Crusher Craib Connor Molloy Umar Mohammed Ted O'Keefe

WrestleZone Tag Team Championships
Crusher Craib & Connor Molloy (c) def. Ted O’Keefe & Umar Mohammed by Pinfall to retain

For the Tag Team Championships match, I was mainly excited to see Umar Mohammed. I’d only seen him wrestle live once (vs. Caleb Valhalla at the 2019 Proving Grounds) and I left suitably impressed, but since then, he’s come under the learning tree of Andy Wild at the Fife Pro Wrestling Asylum. He’s improved immensely under the new environment, so it was exciting to see him back up in the ‘Deen when Dino Del Monte was unavailable.

He teamed with Dino’s Outfit partner Ted O’Keefe, purchasing a flashy entrance jacket (they’re called a Kameez apparently) that matched Umar’s own style. Ted looked entirely dejected in the process. He’s always been great his facial work, being able to convey raw emotion in almost every situation. It’s why he worked so well with Umar and against Crusher Craib and Connor Molloy here. Ted looked depressed without his usual pal in his corner, while Umar looked gleeful. Well, as gleeful as someone who’s facing Crusher Craib can look, anyway. His chest was effectively ripped apart by Crusher’s chops. It’s a basic big man move, telling the crowd to shhh before slapping some meat, but Crusher always gets it to work. He doesn’t hold back in his slaps and it shows, as his uppercut to Ted when he was first tagged in rang with the same sound. He booted O’Keefe in the face for the win, more or less caving his skull in.

While Crusher played the role of big man to great effect here, it was matched perfectly by Connor’s fiery underdog potential. Pre-COVID, Connor still seemed a bit shy when coming through the curtain. He had that fire to him, sure, but there was a bit of charisma lacking, something that he’s clearly worked on since as he was the embodiment of Eddie Guerrero throughout. His rope-walk arm drag and Eddie-style chest taunt were executed with tremendous conviction, as was his diving forearm. It’s a thing of beauty that move. I won’t lie, I was a little apprehensive when he and Crusher first began teaming as I felt Connor still needed to be on his own for a while to get to know himself as a wrestler, but that’s out the window now. The duo are excellent together, made even greater when you envision them as a dad who’s looking out for his son. Damn you, Kyle, I can’t get that out of my head now…

Ted and Umar also got a bit tense after the match, shoving each other, so there’s another potential storyline going forward. Maybe bring someone like Tallon Jr. up from FPWA to team with Mohammed against the Outfit.

Caleb Valhalla Zach Dynamite Mikkey Vago

2021 Halloween Brawl – Triple Threat
Mikkey Vago def. Caleb Valhalla and Zach Dynamite by Pinfall

I adore a Halloween Brawl as it is, but when you put these three together with Halloween items, it’s a recipe for absolute brilliance. Caleb Valhalla was out first, beaming from ear to ear as he received a suitable reaction, followed by Zach Dynamite sporting a leather jacket, man bun, and scowl. But where are the weapons? In the Mosh Pit apparently, as Mikkey Vago emerged, bin full of weapons and all, complete with a new look and music as my new theory of the Rejected going their separate ways spiralled out of control.

Beginning the Mosh Pit over lockdown has visibly brought out a new side to Vago, as he was spurred on by a certain section of the audience against Valhalla and Dynamite. He’s often had this comedic side to him, but all of it added together here. He had a kendo stick to himself, offering Dynamite one strand of a kendo stick to fight with. Later on, he wore a heavy metal pumpkin to avoid being twatted in the head with the full fat kendo stick by that there Norse God Caleb Valhalla. It was a great visual that could’ve only worked in this match if Mikkey Vago was doing it.

Caleb also attempted murder 2.0 in the Northern Hotel, hoisting Zach Dynamite above his head, instead slamming him on the mat from the ring apron (#HardestPartOfTheRing™) in what was a cracking visual. Zach took the brunt of the onslaught here; he was constantly smacked with a kendo stick, was rammed into the turnbuckles early on by Valhalla, ate a vicious Spinebuster, and took a double Powerslam from Valhalla. He gave Caleb a top-rope Frankensteiner onto a pile of sweets, though, so who’s the real victim? E-C-Dub indeed, either for the spot or the select few fans picking up these sweets and enjoying the taste of blood, sweat, and tears, take your pick. It was An Experience. Mikkey Vago was the real star of this match, hitting a double Coast To Coast with a trash can over Dynamite’s head and against Valhalla’s chest. He seemed to call it the Stage Dive unless I heard him wrong, which is class, but it was merely him breaking up a cuddle between Valhalla and Dynamite according to my partner. I’m sure that’s what they were actually doing. A Stunner saw Vago go 1-1 in Halloween Brawls.

This was a hoot. Halloween Brawls have taken off a more serious tone in recent years, which I’ve enjoyed, but it went back to its original comedic run here. The crowd lapped it all up, going mental for Mikkey and Caleb, but Zach Dynamite deserves a moment of appreciation here. He’s really come into his own since the great heel turn of 2018, but he played the role of spot monkey well here. Respect to him for taking all these mad bumps because I’m typing this and only just now remembering Valhalla gave him a Hellride onto those sweets as well.

Anyway, the clean-up started, some Halloween tunes played, and I learned the Northern Hotel charged you £7.30 for two blue WKDs. Plus, it was cash-only. The outrage. If you take cash, cool, but surely in these post-lockdown times, contactless should be an option in bars. At least I got rid of a £10 note I’ve clung onto for the past nearly two years.

Shawn Johnson Bryan Tucker

Lumberjack Match – Len Ironside as Special Guest Referee
Bryan Tucker def. Shawn Johnson by Pinfall

When it comes to WrestleZone events, I try to find positivity in every match, angle, or moment, but this wasn’t a good match. I will however say that WrestleZone were smart in their use of the lumberjacks. They only had six saunter out to surround the ring which I get, we’re still in a pandemic, you don’t really want to bombard the ring if you don’t need to, but they only sent out people who’d already wrestled. Scotty Swift, for example, didn’t go out because he hadn’t gotten that return pop yet. You don’t want to waste that on a lumberjack spot.

The meat of the match was mostly fine. Bryan Tucker offering Len Ironside a doctor’s note and then a crisp £10 note in an attempt to bribe him was a nice touch, with Ted O’Keefe later taking the money instead. Tucker and Shawn Johnson have always had great chemistry together, with an array of Michinoku Drivers, bicycle knees to the jaw, and fisherman’s suplexes all adding to this meat.

The lumberjacks did little of note. On one side, Crusher Craib, Connor Molloy, and Bingo Ballance stopped Tucker from leaving, while Bruiser Brad Evans, Mauler Murphy, and Ted O’Keefe cornered Shawn against the Northern Hotel wall, which is sort of the opposite point of a lumberjack match. Shawn would later dive off the ring apron onto the heel lumberjacks, leading to a massive brawl between the six lumberjacks for no real reason, but Bryan then hit a low blow to the inside of the thigh, rolled him up, and that was that.

Len Ironside as a referee didn’t quite click. He worked exceptionally well as the ringside enforcer at Aberdeen Anarchy 2013, but as a full-on referee, he looked flustered. He didn’t have a clue what was happening. It was a nice touch to see him perform a standing count to give it that World Of Sport feel, but this wasn’t a World Of Sport Rules match. He went around the ring screaming at Ted, eventually punching him, and allowing Shawn to use a belt as a weapon, not caring at all. The lumberjack stipulation and use of Len as referee had the vibe of a big payoff to conclude the story, but it’s hardly going to finish here. There was a shoddy ending to the match. Rivalries never end like that, so who knows, maybe they’ll have a repeat of their tremendous 2016 Christmas Brawl in December.

Ryan Riley Blue Thunder William Sterling Scotty Swift Mr P Evan Young

Scotty Swift, Mr P & Evan Young def. William Sterling, Blue Thunder & Ryan Riley by Pinfall

This was special for a variety of reasons. The reaction for Evan Young. Scotty Swift’s face. Mr P generally being Mr P. William Sterling‘s crowd interaction. Blue Thunder not actually being retired, despite what his Twitter bio says. Ryan Riley walking out on Sterling and Thunder because the match doesn’t matter to him. It’s a weird match on paper, but it worked in so many ways.

Like I said, the crowd were properly behind Evan. At 17-years-old (cheers for making me feel old…), he is very much the future of WrestleZone. Sterling, being the superb bad guy that he excels at being, got down on his knees to match the size of Evan for a lock-up. He’s great at the whole being a d!ck thing and it works exceptionally better when the opponent then comes back looking like a corker of a wrestler. Evan’s early work with Ryan was great, too, with a spinning Bulldog looking like it was his hundredth time hitting the move, while his corner knee strike was a highlight also. That he surprised William with a rollup was the perfect culmination to the match, made even better when Sterling insisted on being tagged in, leading to Ryan walking out and Sterling being almost instantaneously rolled up the newcomer.

The rest of the match flowed oh so naturally. Swift and Thunder hadn’t missed a beat, with the former executing a neat flapjack to the masked man, while Thunder decapitated Evan with a brutal dropkick. Mr P’s constant flashing of his Uranus (covered, of course) to Ryan Riley was a laugh, even if my partner was both confused and intrigued throughout the whole Mr P schtick. Like I said, the ending of the match with Sterling and Thunder having a falling out with Riley opened this superb ending with Evan pinning William to garner this monumental reaction. The Evan Young chant that followed was surprisingly met with the youngster composing himself well. He wasn’t taken aback by the moment, which says a lot about the WrestleZone Training Academy and their standards. They don’t rush their guys through without teaching them everything they need to know, in-ring and out of it. That Swift and P left the ring during this made the moment all the more grander. They understood the magnitude of the moment for Evan.

Here’s my one serious hot take for the night – Evan Young vs. Connor Molloy is going to main event Aberdeen Anarchy one year.

Also, shout out to William Sterling; when calling himself the captain of his team, he apologised to Alan. He didn’t need to, but little tidbits like that separate an average wrestler from someone who gets it.

Alan Sterling Chris Archer

WrestleZone Tri-Counties Championship
Chris Archer w/Mikkey Vago def. Captain Alan Sterling (c) w/Caleb Valhalla by Pinfall to win the title

There was a reason Chris Archer vs. Captain Alan Sterling main evented. As soon as Martyn confirmed it as the new main event, that feeling clicked in my head. Something’s happening. Mikkey Vago’s turning on Chris Archer. Caleb Valhalla’s turning on Alan Sterling. Aspen Faith‘s returning.

But no. Aspen was merely teasing that demographic of the WrestleZone fanbase with a black and white picture of the Northern Hotel. Instead, we got a banger of a main event complete with a surprising title change.

Even before the match, it was a great atmosphere. Mikkey Vago and Caleb Valhalla accompanying their respective partners was a nice touch, with Valhalla wearing Captain Alan’s sailor’s hat and being restrained from removing his t-shirt adding so much to their arc. From where I was sat, Valhalla’s facials were on fleek if that’s still a thing. He proclaimed toot toot before looking annoyed with Sterling’s antics. It’s those subtle details that get a story, a character, a show over as something important. The thing about Alan is he can get new fans involved in the story, hence why my partner didn’t have a clue what was going on, and instead of switching himself off from the story, he watched it all unfold. The drama and comedy of a Captain Alan Sterling match. It was superb from start to finish.

The wrestling here was great. Archer wrestled like he’d been wrestling every week throughout the pandemic, busting out all manner of quick snappy arm drags, hurricanranas, and backflips. It all built together well, with the outside brawling between Vago and Valhalla being enough to make you realise “Hey, I want this, pls and thx” without overshadowing the match itself. When Dennis Law ejected them from ringside, it was a big deal. They’d gone too far so Dennis laid down the Law as only he can. This then coupled excellently with Dennis taking a bump, leading Valhalla to run back out and down Archer. Although Mikkey Vago was a tad late in breaking up the eventual pinfall, the moment in itself was important.

This was Chris Archer’s night. When he won the Tri-Counties Championship, the Northern erupted. It felt like a huge moment for the guy who’s always been in a tag team/alliance of some sorts. If he’s not with Revolution, he’s with Brian Starr, and when he’s not there, he’s a member of the Rejected. But now, after I believe eleven years, he’s got a singles championship to his name. Vago was legitimately elated for him, but going one step closer to a proper championship celebration, a crop of WrestleZone names emptied to embrace Chris Archer. He was hoisted onto Scotty Swift and Crusher Craib’s shoulders as a ‘you deserve it’ chant broke out. Typically, chants like these annoy me because everyone gets it chanted at them, but Chris Archer genuinely deserved it. I could put all the jokes in here about his knees and his back, but he’s always put in a good showing every time I’ve seen him.

It was the right ending to the show. It had to end with a big moment, and a Captain Alan title retention wouldn’t quite have fit the mould unless Caleb destroyed him after the fact. Instead, concluding on a big crowning moment for one of their longest-tenured wrestlers was an apt culmination, and now opens the door for a cavalcade of new, fresh, exciting matches. Again, where Mikkey Vago goes now will be interesting as I believe Kaden Garrick is done now, so who knows, maybe he’ll bring in the Mikkey’s Mosh Pit Big Birthday Bash Quiz Championship. I can see a Tri-Counties Championship feud happening further down the line from a respect angle.

The whole night felt important. We’re not out of this pandemic, but like Martyn said, we’re regaining this sense of normality. Pro wrestling is that one thing for people to look forward to if they’ve had a bad week, suffered a loss, or if they’re just wanting something to do with the kids at the weekend. WrestleZone is tailored for everyone. It’s why we started with Lord Mr Malice before transitioning into a serious Undisputed Championship fight between Damien and Bruiser Brad Evans.

Being at a live show is something I often struggle to put into words. There’s nothing quite like it. Buying the tickets, seeing how excited everyone is for it, the anticipation of show day, the feeling after you’ve gone out the door, it all adds together to create this magical feeling.

It was clear everyone – fans, wrestlers, ring crew, everyone – had missed WrestleZone. The sheer joy in many of the guys’ faces as they came through the curtain each told a story. Damien didn’t know where he stood, now he knows he’s still a beloved champion. Scotty Swift had spoken all throughout the pandemic and everything that happened last summer in detail, and now, he gets to enjoy the reward of waiting till the time was right. Evan Young, in his debut performance, was greeted with a reaction like I’ve never heard before. Even Umar Mohammed, who’s done work that you can see on the WWE Network, was overjoyed at working in front of the packed audience.

There’s a reason it sold out in advance. It wasn’t just to put the fancy sold out graphic across the poster. It’s because you’ll always get a quality night that, crucially, you know will be following the correct guidelines in place. Y’know, like they did all throughout the pandemic.

But it’s Aberdeen, so who cares.

Make the journey up. It’s worth it.

Quick Results
VIP Ticket Holders Bonus Match – Lord Mr Malice Open Invitational – Triple Threat – Bingo Ballance def. Lord Mr Malice w/Jeeves Winchester and Mauler Murphy by Pinfall
Undisputed WrestleZone Championship – Damien (c) def. Bruiser Brad Evans by Pinfall to retain
WrestleZone Tag Team Championships – Crusher Craib & Connor Molloy (c) def. Ted O’Keefe & Umar Mohammed by Pinfall to retain
2021 Halloween Brawl – Triple Threat – Mikkey Vago def. Caleb Valhalla and Zach Dynamite by Pinfall
Lumberjack Match – Len Ironside as Special Guest Referee – Bryan Tucker def. Shawn Johnson by Pinfall
Scotty Swift, Mr P & Evan Young def. William Sterling, Blue Thunder & Ryan Riley by Pinfall
WrestleZone Tri-Counties Championship – Chris Archer w/Mikkey Vago def. Captain Alan Sterling (c) w/Caleb Valhalla by Pinfall to win the title

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